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DMA: Marketers Meeting Web Opt-Out Guidelines

Early results from the Direct Marketing Association's annual study of online marketing indicates that most marketers meet its privacy guidelines -- though a spate of troubling findings lurk as well.

The State of the E-Commerce Industry Report 2001-2002, conducted by the DMA and its Association of Interactive Marketing subsidiary, and slated for release next month, suggests that almost all -- 96 percent -- of the survey's 700 respondents provide ways for consumers to opt-out of e-mail campaigns.

Sixty percent of the respondents -- which include both DMA members and unaffiliated on- and offline marketers -- also indicated that they don't rent third-party e-mail lists, while 74 percent said they never send untargeted, mass e-mail campaigns to prospective customers.

The findings come just a month after DMA leadership introduced guidelines designed to curb growing consumer distaste for commercial e-mail. In part, the rules seek to encourage marketers to honor opt-out requests; to use accurate subject lines; to clearly reveal their identity and contact information; and to safeguard consumer data through regular list cleaning.

The rules apply only to DMA members -- a fact that some have criticized since hard-core spammers typically operate outside of the realm of legitimate business organizations. Nevertheless, the New York-based trade association said the study's findings were positive.

"An e-mail campaign with the proper privacy and permission etiquette will drive traffic to a store or Web site, add to a company's bottom line, and increase goodwill among customers," said DMA President and Chief Executive H. Robert Wientzen. "The continued growth of electronic commerce depends on consumer trust. It is imperative that e-mail marketers take action by placing greater emphasis on privacy and help build consumer confidence and loyalty."

Yet in spite of the DMA's optimistic findings, the study also indicated some serious flaws in the way that online and cross-channel marketers are implementing their e-mail efforts.

For one thing, the survey found that 26 percent of online marketers send e-mails to consumers that have never indicated that they might be a suitable user of the company's products or services -- even by means such as visiting or registering at a related Web site. Thus, these firms could be accused of spamming, or at the very least, with contributing to growing consumer annoyance with unwanted, unsolicited commercial e-mail.

Additionally, smaller companies are more likely to have a housefile with e-mail addresses, with 65.5 percent saying they did. But only 44.9 percent and 46.9 percent of medium and large companies, respectively, said they were doing the same. That fact bodes poorly for efforts by online marketing services players to encourage large firms to undertake cross-channel marketing initiatives. Additionally, multi-channel direct campaigns are widely believed to be more effective than offline-only efforts -- suggesting that the largest marketers are missing a significant opportunity.

Consumer marketers fare especially poorly in connecting offline campaigns to online efforts. While 63.8 percent of business-to-business marketers said they had a housefile containing e-mail addresses, only 37.8 percent of consumer marketers reported having one.

Furthermore, only 35 percent of online or cross-channel marketers said they perform merge/purge to compare their housefiles with rented third-party lists -- suggesting that there's a good chance for duplicate mailings, or even of mailing to opted-out consumers.